U.S. judge allows accused Capitol rioter to act as own attorney

U.S. National Guardsmen stand duty behind the unscalable fence newly topped with razor wire surrounding the U.S. Capitol in the wake of the January 6th riot and ahead of the upcoming inauguration in Washington, U.S. January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A federal judge agreed on Thursday to a New York state man’s request to defend himself against felony charges of participating in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, although he warned him it was unwise.

U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden voiced skepticism about the wisdom of Brandon Fellows, 27, of Schenectady, New York, who is in federal custody, acting as his own lawyer.

“A trained lawyer would defend you far better than you would defend yourself,” McFadden told Fellows. “I strongly urge you not to defend yourself.”

But the judge subsequently agreed to allow Fellows to defend himself with public defender Cara Halverson acting as standby counsel.

An FBI arrest affidavit features what investigators say is a photo of Fellows at the Capitol on a motorcycle wearing a fake red beard. The affidavit cites a social media video showing a person investigators believe was Fellows resting his feet on a table in the office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

While Fellows was initially released on bail, he was later ordered into pretrial detention after prosecutors complained he had tried to intimidate his probation officer and the officer’s mother.

Also on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi told U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper that Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker, who face felony riot charges, had rejected plea offers linked to each other.

But after Fracker’s lawyer said his client might consider a plea deal not linked to Robertson, Aloi said prosecutors might engage in further discussions.

Fracker is out on bail, while Robertson is in pretrial detention.

Earlier, a prosecutor told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan that prosecutors are “in discussions” about possible plea deals with five defendants facing felony riot charges. The defendants are accused of attacking D.C. police guarding the Capitol with objects including a crutch, a flagpole and a baton.

More than 600 people have been charged with taking part in the deadly Jan. 6 violence, which followed a speech by then-President Donald Trump at a nearby rally reiterating his false claims that his November election loss was the result of widespread fraud.

Almost 50 people have so far pleaded guilty to charges related to the violence, nine admitting to committing felonies.

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